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Planning a Trip to Missoula, Montana and Western Montana

Updated on February 15, 2014
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Chris enjoys photographing the places he visits. He shares these photos as travel articles and also mixes them with creative writing.

Morrell Peak Overlooking The Swan Mountains

Source

The Top Ten Most Visited National Parks in America in 2012

  1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park (9,685,829)
  2. Grand Canyon National Park (4,421,352)
  3. Yosemite National Park (3,853,404)
  4. Yellowstone National Park (3,447,729)
  5. Rocky Mountain National Park (3,229,617)
  6. Zion National Park (2,973,607)
  7. Olympic National Park (2,824,908)
  8. Grand Teton National Park (2,705,256)
  9. Acadia National Park (2,431,052)
  10. Cuyahoga Valley National Park (2,299,722)

(Source: Gadling Travel Blog)

Head West, to Western Montana

The western United States is a wonderful place to vacation, and Western Montana offers access to National Parks as well as places of unbelievable beauty with no admission charge.

Millions of people every year set out on vacations to the western United States. Their destinations largely center around the magnificent National Parks such as The Grand Canyon, Zion NP, Yellowstone and Glacier NP. Check out the box to the right to see the number of visitors to the top ten most visited parks in 2012.

The reason we flock to these places is obvious. They are beautiful beyond words. But one might get the impression that outside the National Parks, our country is lackluster even boring. To find true, natural beauty, is it absolutely necessary for there to be a gate blocking our access and someone waiting to take our money? I want to share in this article some of the most beautiful places in America, and there is no admission charge. If you would like to know more about Glacier National park, which is only a couple of hours from Missoula, Montana, follow this link to my article on Glacier National Park.

Western Montana and the City of Missoula

Western Montana is the direction in which I’d like to point you. For this vacation, you would be based in or near the city of Missoula, Montana. Missoula is a wonderful city, but the reason I want to point you there is because of it’s proximity to so many beautiful places and so many exciting things to do. I’ll begin with the city of Missoula and move outward.

Map of Montana and Location of Missoula

Location of Missoula, Montana.  Immediately west of Montana is the State of Idaho.
Location of Missoula, Montana. Immediately west of Montana is the State of Idaho. | Source

The Clark Fork River and Missoula, Montana

The Clark Fork River runs through downtown Missoula, Montana
The Clark Fork River runs through downtown Missoula, Montana | Source

Family Activities in Missoula, Montana

There are three farmers markets that are open from early spring and into the fall. These are experiences that go far beyond simply buying produce. Live music, food vendors and activities for children are some of the things you can expect. Check out these websites for more information.

Missoula Downtown features dinner and entertainment every Thursday night from 5:30 to 8:30 in June, July and August. This is a family oriented event held at Caras Park near Higgins Street Bridge.

First Fridays is a social event held on the first Friday of each month that has many other activities, but focuses on the art galleries downtown. The galleries stay open later and usually have local artists on hand to meet the public. Works of art are featured and for sale. Other businesses join in the fun, such as coffee shops, stores, museums and restaurants. Street performers entertain young and old while street vendors supply your favorite treats.

Dinner at the Park

Dinner at Caras Park during "Missoula Downtown."  During the weekly, three hour event, thousands of people stop by to eat, listen to music and visit with friends.
Dinner at Caras Park during "Missoula Downtown." During the weekly, three hour event, thousands of people stop by to eat, listen to music and visit with friends. | Source

The Rivers of Missoula and Western Montana

Missoula is defined by its rivers. The Clark Fork, the Blackfoot and the Bitterroot Rivers twist and turn across the countryside and through the city in a way that makes you believe they are everywhere. The rivers play an important role in the recreational lives of the locals. Western Montana is a fly fishing Mecca. Kayaking and canoeing are called “going for a float.” To escape the heat of the summer, young and old flock to the rivers to swim. Visit the local outdoors store in Missoula called Trail Head for information about floating one of the rivers. Trail Head rents kayaks, canoes and tubes at reasonable prices.

The City of Missoula and the Rivers Which Run Through It Are One

The Clark Fork River, Missoula, Montana
The Clark Fork River, Missoula, Montana | Source

Missoula is a Great Place to Stay While Visiting Western Montana

Missoula is a great home base for a vacation that will include activities in the city but will also venture out into nature, the likes of which many of us have never seen. Since Missoula is the base of operations, lets begin by highlighting some businesses that may be of help in our activities.

Fly Fishing Shops in Missoula

Grizzly Hackle

215 W. Front St.
Missoula, MT
406-721-8996, 800-297-8996
www.grizzlyhackle.com


Kesel's Four Rivers

1522 S. Reserve
Missoula, MT 59801
406-721-4796, 888-349-4796
www.fourrivers.net


The Kingfisher

926 E. Broadway
Missoula, MT 59802
406-721-6141, 888-542-4911
www.kingfisherflyshop.com


The Missoulian Angler

401 S. Orange Street
Missoula, MT 59801
406-728-7766, 800-824-2450
www.missoulianangler.com



Fly fishing in and Around Missoula, Montana

Missoula Montana Fly Fishing is a local business in Missoula with a website that provides excellent, in depth information about fly fishing in the area. Again, I have my favorites.

Kelly Island-While this is actually an Island, the name refers to the general area, both mainland and on the island. This is the confluence of the Bitterroot and Clark Fork Rivers. It is a beautiful area for fishing or hiking. GPS coordinates are Lat 46.867, Lng -114.1. It is the Spurgin Rd. access.

Gold Creek is reached by taking I90 east to 200 east and then left on Gold Creek Rd. From that point it is still about twelve miles to the creek, but the scenery is fantastic.

Other exciting fly fishing locations highlighted in the above link are as follows:

The Bitterroot River flows northward toward Missoula where it joins the Clark Fork River at Kelly Island. The most prevalent trout in the river is the rainbow.

The Clark Fork River originates near Butte, Montana and flows northwest through Missoula. It then follows a valley along the Cabinet Mountains and into the Idaho Panhandle where it empties into Lake Pend Oreille. The predominant trout in the river is the rainbow/cutthroat hybrid.

The Blackfoot River runs from the Continental Divide to where it joins the Clark Fork River at Milltown east of Missoula. The upper portion of the Blackfoot from its origin to the town of Lincoln, Montana, is the poorest fishing. From Lincoln to its confluence with the Clark Fork, the fishing is very good, featuring brown, rainbow and cutthroat trout.

Rock Creek flows northward for 41 miles from the town of Philipsburg to Drummond where it joins the Blackfoot River. The fishing is good to excellent after the town of Lincoln with the rainbow, brown and cutthroat trout as well as the mountain whitefish being plentiful.

The Confluence of Two Great Fly Fishing Rivers

Confluence of two great fly fishing rivers, the Clark Fork and the Bitterroot.  From this point they become a much larger river which retains the name, Clark Fork.
Confluence of two great fly fishing rivers, the Clark Fork and the Bitterroot. From this point they become a much larger river which retains the name, Clark Fork. | Source

Fly Fishing Gold Creek

Fly fishing Gold Creek east of Missoula, Montana
Fly fishing Gold Creek east of Missoula, Montana | Source

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Day Hikes Near Missoula

Blodgett Canyon overlook-This trail is located off highway 93, forty-one miles south from Missoula. The round trip hiking distance is about three miles, with about 540 feet of vertical gain. Directions: Follow Main Street out of Hamilton heading west. Turn left onto Blodgett Camp Road, then left onto Canyon Creek Road. Follow Canyon Creek road to its end.

St. Mary Peak-It is a long scenic drive up the mountain to the trailhead, but the drive is well worth it. From the trailhead, the trail climbs constantly for about two miles. The hike begins in a typical mountain forest and passes through several distinct changes in the trees as it nears the timberline. Finally the trail emerges from the trees and climbs to the peak where a wild fire watch station sits. The view of the Bitterroot Mountains and canyons is spectacular. Directions: Drive 3.5 miles south of Stevensville junction on Highway 93 and turn west onto Indian Prairie Loop. Continue west 1.8 mils to St. Mary's Road, then turn right and continue 1 mile to the junction of McCalla Ridge Road and St. Mary's Peak Road (Rd 739). Drive on St Mary Peak Rd about 14 miles to the trailhead.

Kootenai Creek Trail-It is a nine mile hike from the trailhead to the Kootenai Lakes and the trail follows Kootenai Creek the entire way. Directions: From Missoula, take Highway 93 south about thirty miles to North Kootenai Rd. Turn right and travel about 2 miles to the trailhead.

Blodgett Lake and Canyon, Bitterroot Mountains, Montana

Blodgett Canyon in the Bitterroot Mountains and Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness.
Blodgett Canyon in the Bitterroot Mountains and Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. | Source

Day Trips From Missoula, MT

The National Bison Range is 18,500 acres managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and serves as the home for 350-500 bison. The NBR was established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908. Visitors drive through the park to view wildlife consisting of bison, Rocky Mountain elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep as well as coyotes, mountain lions, black bears, grizzly bears, bobcat and over 200 species of birds. The NBR is about an hour north of Missoula, Montana with signs off U.S. Highway 93 directing visitors to the entrance at Moiese, Montana.

Glacier National Park is 137 miles north of Missoula, Montana. Click here to learn more about Glacier National Park.

The National Bison Range

National Bison Range, one hour north of Missoula, Montana.
National Bison Range, one hour north of Missoula, Montana. | Source
Source

Jewel Basin, Flathead National Forest, Montana

Cloud filled valley in Jewel Basin east of Kalispell, Montana.  Jewel Basin is about two hours north of Missoula, near Glacier National Park.
Cloud filled valley in Jewel Basin east of Kalispell, Montana. Jewel Basin is about two hours north of Missoula, near Glacier National Park. | Source

Blodgett Canyon, My Favorite Bitterroot Hike

This view looks down the 12 1/2 miles of Blodgett Canyon.  Blodgett Creek is the hiker's constant companion.
This view looks down the 12 1/2 miles of Blodgett Canyon. Blodgett Creek is the hiker's constant companion. | Source

Backpacking the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness in Western Montana

Looking east across Bass Lake.  The trail follows the lake on the left/north side of the lake to the rocky peninsula where I camped for two nighs.
Looking east across Bass Lake. The trail follows the lake on the left/north side of the lake to the rocky peninsula where I camped for two nighs. | Source
Looking east across Bass Lake as the sun sets, casting its light across snowcapped peaks.
Looking east across Bass Lake as the sun sets, casting its light across snowcapped peaks. | Source
Peaks along the hiking trail in Blodgett Canyon
Peaks along the hiking trail in Blodgett Canyon | Source
One thing about hiking in Montana is that you're never alone.
One thing about hiking in Montana is that you're never alone. | Source

Backpacking in the Bitterroot Mountains/Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness


South of Missoula, Highway 93 runs through the Bitterroot Valley with the Bitterroot Mountains to the west. There are many east-west canyons along this route that are phenomenal backpacking opportunities. Here are three of my favorites.

Blodgett Canyon Trail to Blodgett Lake-Of the three canyons I backpacked into, Blodgett was the most scenic. Towering peaks line the entire trail and the trail runs consistently near the creek. This is a 12 1/2 mile hike from the trailhead to Blodgett Lake. the first third of the hike is relatively easy. When you reach the waterfalls, you will know you are about one third of the way to the lake. The elevation gain to Blodgett Lake is 2,760 ft. Because I left on my hike in the mid afternoon on a Friday, I camped at about the halfway point on the way to Blodgett Lake. There is a commonly used camping area with easy access to the creek. This site won’t be difficult to spot as you are hiking. When you get to the lake, you can camp wherever you want, but there are several sites on the north and east sides of the lake. Spend your time scrambling on the scree field on the west end of the lake, fly fishing, swimming or doing some rock climbing.

Bass Creek Trail to Bass Lake-From the trailhead to the lake is about 9 miles with an approximate elevation gain of 3500 ft. The first half of the hike is relatively easy, gaining only 500 feet in elevation. The second half is more intense, gaining 3000 feet. Bass Lake was named after D.C. Bass, a settler in the area in the 1860s. When you get to the lake, stay to the right on the north side and hike about halfway along the lake. You will see a rocky peninsula jutting out into the lake. This is an excellent camping spot as well as a great fly fishing location.

Big Creek Canyon Trail to Big Creek Lake-From the trailhead to Big Creek Lake is about 9 miles with an elevation gain of 1,800 feet. The fishing is great and the scenery magnificent.

Western Montana, the Perfect Vacation Spot

Western Montana is the perfect place to plan a vacation in the western United States. Not only is there an abundance of rivers, lakes, day hiking trails and backpacking trails, but several National Parks are not far away. The Grand Tetons, Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks are within a few hours of Missoula, Montana. If you go, you will always look back on your trip as one of the best vacations you've ever taken.

Enjoy the photos and video that follow. Thanks for reading this article.

Camping on the River

Combine camping and kayaking on the Flathead River.  Awesome experience.
Combine camping and kayaking on the Flathead River. Awesome experience. | Source

Float the Rivers of Western Montana

Grab a kayak, canoe or tube and hit one of the rivers on a hot summer day.  You will love it.
Grab a kayak, canoe or tube and hit one of the rivers on a hot summer day. You will love it. | Source

Exciting Video Showing Awesome Views of the Bitterroot Mountains

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    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 3 years ago from Colorado Springs, CO until the end of March

      Faith, Hang onto this hub, because when you go to Western Montana, I want you to see some of the places I saw. They are simply awe inspiring. Thanks for reading.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 3 years ago from southern USA

      Wow, Cam, what a phenomenal hub. This article should be in a travel magazine somewhere! I would love to see that part of the country. I have only been as far west as Texas, when my husband was in the Air Force. I plan to travel in the upcoming years, and will put this on my list of places to travel!

      Up and more and sharing

      Blessings, Faith Reaper

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 3 years ago from Colorado Springs, CO until the end of March

      Deb, a wide angle lens would be great. Right now the widest I have is 18mm. I'd like to get t a 10mm. Western Montana is beautiful. It's not Boomer Lake, but it is beautiful in its own way. Thanks for dropping in for a visit.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Sure sounds like a great place to get away from it all. Before I go here, I want a wide angle lens.

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 3 years ago from Colorado Springs, CO until the end of March

      Hi Cat on a Soapbox, Glacier is awesome. I went there twice last summer and did a two night backcountry hike up in the northeast corner near Canada. It was awesome. I hope you do take your family back that way sometime. I look forward to returning as well. Thanks for reading.

    • cat on a soapbox profile image

      Catherine Tally 3 years ago from Los Angeles

      Hi Cam,

      Montana isn't referred to as Big Sky Country without a reason! I fell in love w/ Glacier Nat'l Park as a child but see from this hub that it is only a small taste of the beauty. I must visit again w/ my family!

      Whoa, the guy on the wire gave me vertigo from my desk :)

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 3 years ago from Colorado Springs, CO until the end of March

      Ann, It's easy to get into shape in a place like Western Montana. Start out with a short day hike each day. Then a longer one or two on weekends. Pretty soon you're ready for a short hike and camping. You get the idea. Thanks for reading this hub. It's a long one for sure.

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 3 years ago from Colorado Springs, CO until the end of March

      Bill, It's time to pack up and head east. Well, maybe in a couple of months anyway. Western Montana certainly stole my heart. I'll go back someday, I'm sure. Thanks for reading.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

      What breathtaking scenery and the wildlife sounds amazing! I'd love to see this one day but not sure I've got the energy to go hiking day after day; worth a try though.

      This hub is packed with information and advice, all there for the taking. Brill! Ann

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I have spent a great amount of time in western Montana. It is one of my favorite places in this country. Great fly-fishing...great scenery....you feel alive in that part of the country. Now you have me itching to head east again; I'm eight hours away. :)

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 3 years ago from Colorado Springs, CO until the end of March

      Jodah and Frank, thanks for getting over to read this hub. I spent six months in Missoula last year, working at one of the hospitals as a traveling lab tech. It was an awesome experience which I will always look back on with a great deal of joy. Frank, I spent a lot of time fly fishing. I had never fly fished before going to Montana, and I don't mind admitting that I've picked it up pretty well. Have a good weekend, both of you.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 3 years ago from Shelton

      Cam this does look like a guy vacation spot I love the outdoors and I love fly fishing.. great travelers hub my friend thank you for the share :) Frank

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 3 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Cam, this is an incredible hub, jam packed with information and incredible photos. Well done! if I was visiting the States I could do a lot worse than make Missoula my base. Love the place. The tourist bureau or whatever they are called there should hire you to do there travel brochures. Well done, voted up.

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